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Why gold is the key to a glittering future

Our newly identified catalyst has the potential to save lives, improve health and clean up the environment.

Student testing a catalyst in a lab

The manufacture of complex materials like plastic creates too much waste and not enough product. We have been seeking ways of reducing harmful chemicals produced during catalysis.

The more we learn about this precious metal, the more I feel that society is ascribing the wrong kind of value to gold.

Professor Graham Hutchings Professor of Physical Chemistry

A golden chance to save lives

Researchers at the School of Chemistry, led by Professor Graham Hutchings, have discovered that gold has the potential to save lives, improve health and clean up the environment. 

Gold is the best catalyst for the formation of vinyl chloride, the main ingredient for the production of PVC, and has the potential to replace an environmentally harmful mercury catalyst.

Gold is also used as a catalyst to oxidise carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. This has potential to be used in natural disasters or domestic settings where carbon monoxide (CO) needs to be removed from the air.

Replacing harmful elements

Gold has the potential to replace the harmful mercury catalyst used in the manufacture of over 20 million tonnes of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) every year to create PVC.

Catalyst for change

Catalysis is an enabling technology that underpins an estimated80-90% of all manufactured goods. The phenomenon involves a material, which isnot one of the reactants, speeding up a desired chemical reaction without theneed for an increase in temperature. 

Commonly used catalysts such as thosecontaining mercury have proven wasteful, environmentally hazardous and evenharmful to human health. Gold, scientists have discovered, is not only a viablealternative catalyst but sometimes, the best possible catalyst.

The research has led to a new process to produce vinyl chloride that does not use mercury.

Two leading organisations have made substantial investments in developing the new catalyst, and the findings have been incorporated into the global policy debate around the use of Mercury and its risks to human health and the environment.

Meet our experts

Professor Graham Hutchings

Professor Graham Hutchings

Regius Professor of Chemistry

+44 (0)29 2087 4059

Our state-of-the-art catalysis facility supports world leading research in chemical sciences.

This research was made possible through our close partnership with and support from: